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The Israel Navy began evaluating the possibility yesterday that guided missile vessels could be deployed in the Haifa Bay to provide a defensive shield against rockets fired by Hezbollah in Lebanon against targets in Haifa and its environs.

The vessels would be equiped with the Barak anti-missile system normally carried by advanced navy ships, such as the Saar-5 and Saar-4.5 class destroyers. The Navy's department for armaments and the Defense Ministry's Weapons Development Authority are responsible for the evaluation, which is considered urgent.

If the Barak system is used to target advanced forms of Katyusha rockets and Fajr missiles, it will be guided by land-based radar, including Green Pine, the radar for the Arrow anti-missile batteries.

A spokesperson for the Defense Ministry, Rachel Ashkenazi, said yesterday that "urgent efforts are being made to use different systems that are relevant to countering the rockets. The systems are in place and are in use."

Military sources expressed satisfaction about the intention to use an improvised version of the Barak defense system, but were highly critical at the Defense Ministry's handling of the rocket issue since the summer of 2004.

The sources blamed the failure to develop a dedicated anti-rocket system on complacency and mistaken budgetary considerations, including the wish to fund the project with U.S. aid money instead of developing an indigenous system. The latter consideration forced Israel to waste precious time in finding U.S. partners for Israeli firms and waiting for Pentagon and Congressional approval.

A senior officer said yesterday that the lethal Katyusha attacks on Haifa could have been prevented.

The Barak system was also part of the defensive suit of INS Spear, the Saar-5 Class destroyer hit with a C-802 anti-ship missile fired by Hezbollah on Friday night. According to the investigation of the incident, one of the problems in the warship's response to the attack was that the data on the Iranian-made missile had not been loaded onto the ship's computer systems. This stemmed from a Military Intelligence failure to identify the presence of the anti-ship missile in Hezbollah's arsenal.

The latest Israel Defense Forces assessments hold that the two missiles fired against INS Spear and a Cambodian freighter Friday had been smuggled into Lebanon from Syria on Thursday night, prior to the air force attacks on the Damascus-Beirut highway.